Monday, September 29, 2014

The Pope mentioned "the reality of the abandonment of the elderly" - a reader, a nursing home worker wrote to me about that...

A difficult life.

Years ago, after I left the monastery and attempted to live as a pilgrim - more in the poustinik sense of the Russian vocation, I worked in a small nursing home in Roxbury, Boston - to earn enough to support myself in a room on Beacon Hill and to put aside enough to move to Italy to follow in the footsteps of St. Benedict Joseph.

The nursing home where I worked was a nightmare of abuse and neglect.  I started out as the janitor and when the cook didn't show up for several days, I filled in - the residents and staff liked my cooking and I was given that position.  A Little Sister of Jesus I was acquainted with took over as janitor.  She was so appalled by the conditions, she quit...

I know the bad side of nursing homes, as well as the good side of the better ones.  However ... there is always suffering - no matter how nice the residence, no matter how wonderful the care.  As Pope Francis pointed out yesterday in his address to the elderly:

But there is also the reality of the abandonment of the elderly: how many times we discard older people with attitudes that are akin to a hidden form of euthanasia! The culture of discarding human beings hurts our world. We discard children, young people and older people under the pretense of maintaining a "balanced", economic system the center of which is no longer the human person, but money. We are all called to counter this culture of poisonous waste! 
We Christians, together with all people of good will, are called to patiently build a more diverse, more welcoming, more humane, more inclusive society, that does not need to discard the weak in body and mind. On the contrary we need a society which measures its success on how the weak are cared for. - Pope Francis meeting with the elderly.

"I hope Pope Francis continues to talk, loudly, about the elderly ..."

I received a comment from a friend of the blog who works in a nursing home operated by religious.  Even in these homes, all the minuscule needs of the residents cannot possibly be met, and due to the stresses of daily life, the anxieties of residents and caregivers can tax patience and charity.  It is very challenging work.  As is life.

Anyway, my friend's comment helps us understand more deeply the difficulties involved in nursing care.  Perhaps the most overlooked and under appreciated are those good people who work in dietary and housekeeping, performing the most menial yet essential tasks.  Their work is hidden and often humbling, not always well compensated nor appreciated - nonetheless it is honorable and dignified work, exalted in the eyes of God.

The testimony of a care-giver.
"I hope Pope Francis continues to talk, loudly, about the elderly - in fact, I wish he would visit 'some' nursing homes on his visit the United States, or while visiting anywhere. Conditions are .... sort of ... awful ..... in the sense that the really old all get warehoused. Although the good homes give the visual sense of an up-scale college dorm, it is still just very difficult. 
I do not see many/any of the residents calling upon their reserves of spiritual strength: I see them clinging so hard to life, becoming increasingly needy, often verbally/physically abusive to staff/nursing, fussy in all their superficial needs, and, generally, exhaustively demanding. 
Yesterday, in the oh-so-nice dining room (where it is 80 degrees and I nearly melted from the physical work in this heat for hours) I was actually ready for their arrival after Mass... the one day that almost all of them get assistance in getting wheeled in, the only day that the nuns who own the place show up: family members come: the priest is there: always, the food is amazingly good, which is helpful as I still go to a food bank and hope I can continue to qualify for $100 a month food stamps: I went to work there knowing I'd be able to eat there. An important thing, when people everywhere in the US are vastly underpaid, as am I, at 8.60 an hour. 
The thing is: this population is a cash-cow for the nursing home/medical industry: even for nuns, which surprised me....none of whom are 'nice' to the workers. Ever. Despite everything, the staff are unfailingly kind to the residents. me, included. 
This rant is because....I really do not understand why the elderly themselves seem to never reflect on their end-of-life status.  There is never a mention of death, and when it occurs it is so quickly swept away.  Nary a word of reconciliation with one's state, nary a suggestion that to be kind to others is not an adage to be thrown out the door upon reaching 80 (or 70, in some cases). 
It is extremely stressful: if this is read, I am sure most of you have gone through the last years, moments of your parents/partners lives, and know what a run-away train it can be. It is, really, the time when it is most, most essential to speak and pray about Mercy. In my mothers last years, she wrote poetry almost every day and it was usually addressed to God, and full of questions about why she was still alive ( she died shortly after her 93rd birthday), as well as intimate thanks to Him. I have a box-full. Well, that's how I know that awareness of one's state and impending death is possible.

Of course I do feel compassion, most/much/some of the time... I'm always aware of the fact that these often pitiful people have an angel nearby, their witness, all these years, and I wonder about it all. Pneumonia used to be called 'the old persons friend': now, with much medical intervention, it is no longer. Old age is a very sorry state, a time when one is so dependent upon others for the most intimate of needs - a time, I have seen, not of peace, prayer, acceptance, penance, but rather one of lashing out in anger that the 'good years' of strength, power, independence are no more. A time of surliness & often rage. And no, I am not speaking of the ones with dementia - but of those just like us, with all of these human failings often just under that thin surface. I do not know the purpose of this rant of mine, but to respond to the Pope - to please speak even louder, and explain it all to me.

This is my day off, I'll be back up at 4 am Tuesday to get to work.  Today I must finally get an on-sale phantom hydrangea into the hole I dug a week ago. There is a Mass at 6 pm I can get to, as I work every weekend (I get 50 cents an hour more for working weekends) and I'm too exhausted to get to Mass..." - Signed: C

Many thanks to my friend and all of those who do this work - it is so much more than just a job.  God reward you!


  1. I have been a licensed nurse in the state of California for the past 25 years and I have pretty much seen it all. I deal with death and dying as my vocation in nursing. Sometimes it is very hard, other times, I see how the Lord Jesus is at work with His mercy and His compassion. I cry many times and yet other times, I am grateful and content but remain aware that without His help, I could not do what I do...not one tiny bit.

    I have work as a Hospice nurse with a specialty in Crisis Management. We are sent out to many different places to assess and manage our pts. currently under hospice care. Homes for the elderly can mean, assisted living, retirement homes, board/care homes, skilled nursing facilities and finally, private homes.

    I have met many wonderful folks. Some truly appreciate what we do, while others treat us as if we were maids who know nothing. Some are very kind and cooperative, others are combative and verbally abusive.

    There are times when I wonder if the fact that they are dying is an anger issue, maybe fear, unresolved family issues. I have encountered all kinds of family situations that for me, well, I thank the good Lord, will never deal with but then again, each family is unique.

    I am glad Pope Francis is talking about the elderly and the many situations in which they may find themselves. They need our prayers, our respect and our support.

    I pray everyday before heading out to my assignment. I am always asking Jesus, Mary, and Joseph to accompany me and to minister to the patient and the family with whatever their needs may be. I ask too that St. Joseph obtain for them from our Lord the grace of a happy death.

    Consolata's story can be told many times over and the fact that she has struggled and remains committed is a testimony to her vocation as a caregiver. May God reward her efforts with heaven.

    Cling to Jesus, Consolata! May your tears be your joy since they are a testimony of a heart fully alive! That is the kind of heart our precious Lord wants...a heart of flesh and not of stone!

    God bless you and keep you strong!

  2. Thank you Yaya - I too pray a lot to continue. On my drive in at 5:30 am I pray the Divine Mercy - the good of this is that I really, really like my co-workers, helps alot -


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